Eanes ISD’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advisory committee has been making strides to increase cultural awareness across the district, despite pushback that is occurring at the higher-education level.

DEI committee co-facilitators Dianne Parks, West Ridge Middle School principal, and Monique Payne-Pikus, a West Ridge parent, provided updates on what the committee has implemented throughout the past year during the regular board of trustees meeting March 26.

A closer look

The 31-member DEI advisory committee consists of parents, students, staff and community members who work to enhance racial, religious, gender, culture, ability and economic awareness through meetings, events and conversation.

Along with the committee, each campus in Eanes has its own equity team. These teams have facilitated a variety of student-involved initiatives, such as:
  • A “culture corner,” where students discuss a culture group and answer trivia questions during advisory time
  • A yearly World Culture’s Day, with a theme that varies per campus
  • Chaps 4 Change at Westlake High School, where high school students meet monthly to discuss current events
  • True Colors Club Fair at Westlake High School, consisting of 80 clubs to help students find their community on campus
DEI also has a number of subcommittees, such as its data subcommittee, which is reviewing answers from a staff, parent and student climate survey regarding belonging and safety. Payne-Pikus said the subcommittee findings will be presented to the board by September.

Other subcommittees include a resource hub subcommittee, which will gather resources from campus equity teams, and a community conversations subcommittee, which is set to host a one-night event April 30 at West Ridge and Hill Country middle schools with “questions designed to stimulate meaningful dialogue.”

Also of note

Parks added in the presentation that a district survey showed roughly 12% of Eanes students identify as LGBTQ+, per findings from Heidi Sauer, coordinator of counseling and social and emotional learning.

Parks said this percentage is higher than other groups in the district, such as emergent bilingual students or special education students.

“All of these groups of kids who are an even lower percentage than [LGBTQ+ students], we have all of these resources and intentional focus on how to support them,” Parks said. “However, this is a relatively large percentage of our kids who we haven’t necessarily sat down to really think about, 'How do we intentionally support this group of kids?'”

Keep in mind

The future of DEI offices and roles have recently made headlines. Senate Bill 17, which went into effect Jan. 1, bans DEI offices and initiatives at all Texas public colleges and universities, with bill author Sen. Brandon Creighton saying DEI policies are “discriminatory” and “polarizing.”

While SB 17 does not affect K-12 schools, Eanes ISD Chief Communications Officer Claudia McWhorter reiterated that there are no plans to alter Eanes’ DEI committee.

Still, the district has had its share of controversy surrounding the committee. The board of trustees voted to extend the committee’s contract in 2021 as previously reported by Community Impact, a move that was met with both support and opposition from dozens of community members.

However, several board members once again voiced their appreciation for the committee during the March 26 meeting.

“I’m so excited about the level of communication that you’re encouraging among the students and among the community,” board member Jennifer Champagne said. “The fact that you are encouraging students to respectfully discuss difficult topics is something that has been lacking in our education system and lacking in our society. We see it too much among the adults in our society.”